Book: The Last Three Minutes

The Last Three Minutes: Conjectures About the Ultimate Fate of the Universe (Science Masters Series)
Authors:P. C. W. Davies Manufacturer:Basic Books Released:January, 1997 Rating: B

The Big Bang. Genesis. These are the two prevailing theories on the beginning of the universe. But honestly, who cares? I’m more worried about the future than the past any day of the week. That’s why this book caught my interest. If the universe is going to end, I want to be darn sure that it’s not going to happen before I die of natural causes, and it’d be nice to know how it’s going down too. Paul Davies takes me on a delightful tour thorugh the current theory of where we all are headed, in the big picture.

The book starts with what I might consider a fake-out: Davies starts by recounting a situation where some asteroid has been found to be on a collision course with Earth and the final minutes in our existence considering that we know we’re going to be hit by a “global killer”. While this is interesting, it’s a bit of fiction. We were scared for a bit that later this century we would be hit by something heading our direction, but it was found to be missing us by just a little bit later. After considering the possibilities and probabilities of these happening for some pages, he notes that even if we do die this way, it’s not exactly the last three minutes of the universe, just life on earth. Going on, he discusses the possibility of heat death, seemingly unavoidable by the second law of thermodynamics and something which depressed scientists to no end after they found it out. He also covers the possibility that the universe may stop expanding and start contracting at some point in the future.

Davies seems to work very hard to make the material not as dry as a AA member at a monastery by connecting most of the theory to what would actually happen, assuming that human life exists at that point. Unfortunately, the evaporating power of the material seems to take over, and I couldn’t really get through this book all the way without forcing myself through long sections on black holes that I really didn’t care much about. After the long discussion of black holes and how we could possibly get energy out of them stops, Davies got to the meat of what I was actually looking for: heat death or contracting universe. The last third of the book was actually much easier to read than the middle and much more intersting than most of the rest. Contracting and “Bouncing back” universes are discussed along with an actually interesting tangent about artifically creating universes by tricks with false vacuum. One other thing I really like about this book - Davies seems to go out of his way to make sure you know where to look up more information about the situations he talks about - even without resorting to looking at the notes in the back.

The book is actually better than many I could have read on the subject, and did increase my knowledge of the possibilities for the ultimate fate of the universe fairly extensively. It definitely gets my recommendation for geeky reading over the summer, at least if you can get through to the really interesting parts. At 176 pages, it is actually more reading than it looks like at a paltry paperbook size. If it weren’t for the dry section in the middle, it wouldn’t be B grade material.